Kristeen Young might not be a household name, but the St. Louis-bred, New York-based singer-songwriter has recorded with a bevy of musical heavyweights. The list includes David Bowie, Dave Grohl and Morrissey, who described his fondness for Young in his 2013 autobiography, writing, “The solid fixity of her presentation is as striking as having a safe drop on your head from a tenth-floor window."
Can you recall the first time you met Morrissey?
The very first time I met him he didn’t recognize me. He had seen me in a video he really liked, and he didn’t recognize me as that person, so he had me kicked out of the studio [Laughs]. He was like, “Who is that girl? Get her out of here!”
You’ve been entrenched as his opener for a number of years, and his audiences were fairly cruel early on. Have they become more accepting of your music in recent times?
Yeah, it’s shifted a lot. This tour I’m on now, we’re being so well received I don’t even know how to handle it. I’ve never had nice things happen to me before, so I really don’t know what to do with that.
Does being his opener carry over into other avenues? Are you always opening doors for him? Pickle jars?
[Laughs] Very funny. No, he’s very giving to me actually. He opens my pickle jars.
How’d you connect with Dave Grohl for your new album “The Knife Shift” (on which the former Nirvana member/current Foo Fighter plays drums throughout)?
He guest hosted on “Chelsea Lately” last year, and there’s a writer and regular on that show, a stand-up comic named April Richardson, and I guess they formed a friendship the week he was on there and she gave him a mixtape with one of my songs on it. He liked the song, looked me up on YouTube and we started emailing.
When you get an email from Dave Grohl is the first thought, “Someone is catfishing me”?
Well, no, because April mentioned he was going to be writing me.
The title of the song “Rough Up the Groove” could almost double as a description of your approach to performance. There’s a real physicality to your music, like you’re attacking the songs rather than simply playing them.
I guess it’s just the musical representation of my personality.
Would you describe yourself as more aggressive? When you played freeze tag as a kid, would you tag people a little too hard?
Oh, no! In fact people tell me that I’m really different offstage. I’m an introvert for the most part, which I’ve been working on my whole life because I don’t really want to be. I’m very passionate about things, and I’ll give my opinions, but I’m a pretty meek person other than that.
What is it about music that draws that more aggressive aspect out in you?
I’ve just always been very affected by sound. I guess it taps into the center of who I am. Like I said, I’m a very passionate person with a lot of emotion, and I guess it comes out there.
On “V for Volcano” you penned songs from the points-of-view of supporting players in Hollywood films (the Angry Apple Tree in “The Wizard of Oz,” and so on). Why do you think you’re drawn to those far-from-the-marquee types?
It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it [Laughs]? It’s because I feel like a peripheral player a lot. I’ve always been fascinated by people who don’t get all the attention — the underdogs. I feel like those are the type of people that are generally attracted to my music, too. The kinds who are considered odd and are either made fun of or just made to feel invisible.
You’ve got songs on your new album with titles like “This Is War” and “I’ll Show You.” After all this time, is there still a sense you need to prove yourself as an artist?
I think people have to prove themselves constantly, and I definitely do. Nobody knows who I am [Laughs]. Those songs aren’t necessarily about my journey in the music business — or lack of. All of life is war, really. It’s all a struggle.
Kristeen Young gives voice to the periphery while linking up to the stars
"The Devil Made Me" by Kristeen Young